DNA said one thing; police and judge, another

Posted: July 07, 2014

It's become the last, best hope of people charged with a crime: a DNA test that proves police have the wrong guy.

Tell that to Antwon Watkins.

The 16-year-old South Philadelphia High School junior was found guilty of simple assault by a Philadelphia Family Court judge April 28 despite negative DNA results, alibi witnesses, school attendance records, and having no prior arrests.

It could have been worse. Watkins had been charged with aggravated assault on a police officer.

Police alleged that Watkins was the young man in a red hooded sweatshirt who, two officers say, on Jan. 13 pointed a rifle at them and then fled, igniting a wild pursuit that ended with a police detective firing three shots and his partner crashing their unmarked car.

Family Court Judge Richard J. Gordon acquitted Watkins of aggravated assault but then found him guilty of simple assault.

"We were shocked," said Watkins' lawyer, Michael J. Diamondstein.

The evidence of Watkins' innocence, Diamondstein said, was "overwhelming."

Not the least of that evidence, Diamondstein says, was the DNA analysis by the Police Department's Office of Forensic Science completed Jan. 29.

DNA recovered from the rifle dropped by the fleeing suspect - a Daisy BB gun - could not have come from Watkins, the report states.

As for a coat wrapped around the air rifle, police found DNA belonging to five people, at least one who is male. But the DNA was so mixed that matching it to Watkins was "inconclusive."

So why did Watkins spend the last six months wearing an electronic ankle bracelet and wondering whether he'd end up in a juvenile facility?

That's what Watkins' mother, Lorraine Smith, would like to know.

"It's not right," Smith said. "He didn't do it and I know he didn't do it."

Here's what's agreed-on about the events of Jan. 13 in South Philadelphia:

At about 4:10 p.m. two law enforcement officers - Detective Matthew Carey of Southwest Detectives and Special Agent Martin Dietz of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office were in plainclothes in an unmarked 2007 Chevy Impala heading east on Morris Street toward 30th Street.

Both were working for the Attorney General's Gun Violence Task Force and, according to Dietz's statement to police investigators, were doing a drive-by of a house before serving a search warrant.

Dietz, 64, a former Philadelphia police officer with decades of undercover experience, was driving and Carey, 34, was in the front passenger seat.

Dietz told investigators that as he drove he spotted a guy in his "late teens" walking west on Morris. Dressed in a red hoodie and khaki cargo pants, the person was carrying a black jacket with what appeared to be a rifle barrel sticking out.

"I said to Detective Carey, 'He has a rifle,' " Dietz said. And Carey immediately replied, " 'Gun.' "

Dietz's statement says the male saw their car, figured it was police, and bolted. At that point, Carey got out of the Chevy and ran after him. Dietz said he backed up to Corlies Street and began driving north and saw the suspect running, and Carey in pursuit.

"Just as I got parallel to them," Dietz continued, "the male in the red-hooded sweatshirt turned between two houses. As I was passing them I heard three gunshots and I saw Detective Carey squatting down."

Dietz said he looked back at Carey as he turned right on Tasker Street to try to intercept the fleeing suspect. Instead, he hit a 2000 Cadillac DeVille heading west on Tasker and the pursuit ended.

Dietz said he got out of his car and saw the driver of the Cadillac get out and collapse.

When it was over, neither Dietz nor the other driver was seriously injured, but both cars had to be towed. And officers recovered the BB gun, which the suspect had dropped.

Diamondstein said he felt confident police had the wrong kid in a red hooded sweatshirt - even before the DNA results were in.

School records showed Watkins was in school all day Jan. 13, Diamondstein said.

Smith said her son and several friends came to her home on Earp Street after school, had something to eat, and watched TV.

Afterward, Smith said, her son and his friends went out to play basketball. Watkins was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt.

At 5:15 p.m. - an hour after the incident - police spotted Watkins and friends walking at 26th and Dickinson Streets. Watkins was taken into custody, his friends let go.

Diamondstein said it defies logic that someone with a BB gun would aim it at an armed policeman. He said he also couldn't believe that anyone who did that and managed to escape would be found an hour later in the same neighborhood, wearing the same clothing.

The DNA results were all he needed, Diamondstein said. He was sure the District Attorney's Office would drop the charges.

Instead, Watkins was before Judge Gordon on April 28 and left being found guilty of simple assault. The judge appeared convinced by the unshaken identifications of Watkins by two veteran street cops.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock, who handled parts of the Watkins case acknowledged the DNA did not prove Watkins was the red-hooded male carrying the BB gun but added that the gunman also carried the rifle wrapped in clothing.

"That explains why there was no DNA found," Wellbrock said.

"But even with that," countered Diamondstein, "he would have had to handle the gun to wrap it in the clothing."

Antwon Watkins' trip through the juvenile justice system ended Wednesday morning in Court A at Family Court.

Judge Gordon took the bench and listened to a report about Watkins' conduct since arrest: no positive drug tests, no new offenses, perfect school attendance.

"Discharged," said Gordon. No probation and no more ankle bracelet.

"You did good," the judge said. Then, referring to the events of Jan. 13, Gordon added: "But what you did was crazy out there."

"I didn't do it," Watkins protested.

"Well . . . ," Gordon trailed off and then called the next case.


215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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